Stair Building Ideas For Design And Construction

Water Problem Areas For Wood Stairs

water problems at bottom of exterior wood stairway

We should probably start with the biggest water problem area for wood stairs and that will be at the bottom or base of the stairway. Exterior wood stairways can get wet, if they aren't covered by a roof or other type of covering and this usually creates the possibility of a variety of different types of damage.

In the picture above you can see where moisture or water has accumulated on the concrete walkway under each side of the stringers and overtime it will start to rot the wood. If the damage continues, the stairway will need to be replaced and if and when that time comes, it wouldn't be a bad idea to raise the stairway off the ground with some type of building hardware.

wood stair stringer gap at tread problem

Here's another problem area, where the stair treads meets the stringers. These areas usually collect debris and dirt and if these areas aren't cleaned regularly could lead to wood rot.

The fact that the stairway is in the shade isn't doing it much good either. As debris or dirt accumulates in any gap or other parts of the stairway and it doesn't get a chance to dry out, because the sun isn't shining on it or is only shining on it a few hours a day, then these areas will remain moist and start to decompose or rot.

It's kind of a catch 22, too much sun can damage a stairway, just like too much shade.

long crack in staircase step can absorb water

It's probably hard to see, but the first tread or step has a large crack in it and these cracks can retain large amounts of moisture, for long periods of time. As long as there's moisture in the cracks, the wood will suck it up like a sponge and transfer it to other parts of the stairway, including the metal handrail

The solution to this problem is simple in most cases, simply fill the gaps or cracks with a durable exterior caulking and paint or seal the stairway.

The key to maintaining your property is to actually inspect it every once in a while and then, I know this is going to sound hard to believe, but you will need to actually make the necessary repairs. You really can extend the life of a wood stairway by taking a little time to inspect and repair wood damage on a regular basis.

wood stairs against stucco exterior wall can create gaps for water damage

Here's another problem area and it will all depend upon how the stairway was built or attached to the exterior stucco wall. If metal flashing has been installed or the stairway is separated from the stucco by at least a half-inch, then something like this might not be a big concern.

However, if the wood stair stringer is actually touching the stucco, then there's a good chance the stringer will become damaged, because cement products like stucco and concrete can absorb and retain moisture for long periods of time, allowing some of it to also get absorbed into the wood.

After a while the moisture will either attract termites or start the natural decomposition process of rotting the wood.

upper wood stair connection at landing gaps for water seepage problem

Finally we get to the top of the stairway and this could present us with another problem, depending upon how the landing was finished and constructed. If metal flashing had been installed properly and the upper landing slopes away from the stairway, then it might not be a problem.

However, almost every stair design I run into like this has the landing sloping towards the wood stairs and every time it rains, the wood stairs get soaked. Even if it doesn't rain, but there's enough moisture in the air on a regular basis, the sloped landings can continue to feed water to other wood stair parts, with the possibility of suffering damage in the future.

These are all problem areas architects and building designers should be concerned with, as well as property owners who need to do a better job maintaining their wood stairways.